Treehouse

online magazine for short, good writing

Category: Fiction

The Congregation

by Treehouse Editors

Bailey Bridgewater

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Bailey Bridgewater’s work has appeared in Crack the Spine, The Molotov Cocktail, The Eunoia Review, Nanoism, SubTerranean, As You Were, and Fiction on the Web.

Crashing

by Treehouse Editors

Alle C. Hall

She was eight and at the beach and she felt like a movie star. Her jumper was as bright as a Lifesaver, falling well above her knees, with inch-wide shoulder straps that she loved the color of, crisp white. She played catch with her sister but she was the movie star. Her straps slid pleasantly back and forth as she dove for the ball. Before the beach, they bought it at the drugstore, the ball, along with things like her father’s film and the Juicyfruit gum that would slide out of the pack and to the bottom of her mother’s purse. She was sure that her mother knew when she snuck the flat, foil-wrapped sticks from between the pennies and loose cigarettes. The gum never tasted only sweet. It always had tobacco flakes in it.

The sand between her toes felt scratchy, a grown-up feeling, like painful, like magazines intimated it would feel when an older she would do something called fix those unsightly heels. She felt beautiful. The air smelled exactly the way air should, like salty ocean water. Like waves crashing. The air held just a touch of suntan lotion. Only little kids wore sunscreen back then. The sunscreen smelled like sunshine. Her father’s fancy camera was focused only on her; she loved the attention, she was beautiful, a movie star, she was sunshine, she was mirth, she was everything they wanted her to be. Her shoulder straps had a round button on them, a big round button. A button. On her thirty-sixth birthday, he called. That was when she let it in, what he would do with the pictures, once he developed them, would do to his body, and then her hands would tremble, would tremble when she brought back the button and the ocean water and those waves. Those waves, crashing.


Alle C. Hall is a semi-finalist in Screencraft’s Cinematic Short Story Contest (Finalists announced on March 14th, 2018. Send her good vibes). She is also a semifinalist in Hippocampus Magazine‘s “Remember in November” Creative Nonfiction Contest; a Best of the Net nominee; and First Place winner in The Richard Hugo House New Works competition. Favorite publications include Creative Nonfiction, Brevity (blog), The Citron Review, Crack the Spine, jmww, Bust, Literary Mama, Seattle Times, Seattle Weekly, and The Stranger (Contributing Writer), among others. Claim to fame: interviewed Leonard Nimoy. “He was a bit of a pill. Disappointing.” allehall.wordpress.com

A Letter to Whoever is Wearing My Boots

by Treehouse Editors

Yael Hacochen

Each year in Ramat Hagolan, at least 1,200 cattle produce milk, feed on grain and oats, give birth, and die when their time comes. When the cows were under Syrian control they were spoken to in Arabic, and after Israel took control of the land in 1973, in the war of Yom Kipor, the cows of that region were spoken to in Hebrew, or Arabic. Depending on the farmer.

In the year 1997 a calf was born. She was the second-born heifer of a prize-winning cow and died by stepping on a mine. This could be where the story ended, if not for a change in the family business. It was exactly the month that the family that owned the calf decided its skin would be used for leather.

They called in a specialist, who was missing half a pinky from his days as an apprentice. The specialist stood in the middle of the green field and produced a sheathed knife. The knife was curved like a quarter moon. He worked with the utmost care so as not to leave a scratch. The skin came off in a single thin sheet, like the parting of red petals.

The leather was loaded onto a truck. It was removed and spread in a large metal container by the two agile hands of the craftsman. He noted that the skin was small in size and heavy in weight: perfect for a small woman’s combat boots.

The leather was laid out on a black rubber cutting mat, and a pattern was drawn. Using a trimming knife, the craftsman traced the leather as one would trace a lover’s back, until four symmetrical pieces lay detached.

The pieces were handed over to a young shoemaker who worked the leather into shape and attached it to a rubber sole. The letter “צ” was stamped at the top, where it was closest to God. A small pocket for dog-tags was added into the strip. Finally, they were shipped to a base in HaKiryaa.

It happened that in the year 2006, a bushy-browed Nagad chose them off the shelf, tied the shoelaces together in a timely manner and threw them in the back of his truck. Fate called me in to see the Nagad, who whispered like a boy with a crush: “I have a surprise for you”.

Friends died in that time. But they wore different shoes. My boots were never shot, never punctured, were never crushed. They only lifted one foot after the other, or both at once.


Yael Hacohen is a PhD student at UC Berkeley. She has an MFA in Poetry from New York University, where she was an ‎NYU Veterans Workshop Fellow, International Editor at Washington Square Literary ‎Review, and Editor-in-Chief at Nine Lines Literary Review. Her poems appear or forthcoming in The Poetry Review, Bellevue Literary Review, Every Day ‎Poets Magazine, Nine Lines, and many more. She was a finalist in the 2015 Glimmer Train Very Short Story Competition, the 2015 ‎Consequence Prize in Poetry, and the 2013 MSLexia Poetry Prize for Women.‎

 

A PSA About Love

by a contributor

Sean Pravica

I metamorphosed into a bat and life has become difficult. My wife doesn’t love me anymore, but I can’t see her anyway so perhaps it’s just as well. All the other bats are loud and loveless. They remind me of my in-laws. You could say though that while I’m getting the hang of it, I would give anything to be a man again.

If I were you I would kiss my wife like I was Al Gore, before he and Tipper separated, of course. You may wake up one day and suddenly everything has changed.


Sean Pravica is a writer and entrepreneur living in Southern California. He has been nominated for writing awards including Sundress Press’ Best of the Net as well as storySouth Million Writer’s Award. His first novel, “Stumbling out the Stable,” is due for release by Pelekinesis Press in November 2015.

See Sean’s list of 5 Things in our ongoing contributors’ series later this week.

Moon Men

by a contributor

Erik Doughty

Hi, Ms. Paley. This is Jimmy Chang, calling on behalf of my son, Kevin. It seems he never received Julie’s RSVP for his birthday. The party just ended, but what if I told you he planned his whole kickball-themed day around Julie being here, yet he is terrible at all things requiring foot-eye coordination—even walking? What if none of the other booger-snacking overbiters in attendance even mattered, because only your daughter gives his heart a brain freeze?

Kevin’s been courting Julie since third grade, keeping track of how many teeth she’s lost and her favorite crayon color, which is somewhere between Pumpkin and Snazzy Sunburst. From what I understand, he said “hi” to her once by accident.

Sure, Kevin is not the ideal fourth grade boyfriend. He doesn’t know the secret handshake or not to share his chicken nuggets with the class pet iguana. But that’s on me: me failing him, not the other way around. See, he has this “eject” button on his belt loop that he presses whenever he gets stuck inside someone else’s joke. It was cute at first, but knowing what I know now, it’s like who can I ask about this? What words do good parents keep in their pockets?

Sometimes, I take him out on the roof with a telescope and a cookie dough bucket; we talk about buying a condo on the moon after we sell our lucky stars. I tell him, “I don’t know how much those go for on craigslist.” He chews with understanding.

Then, we talk superpowers: telekinesis or teleportation, the pros and cons of secret identities. Kevin would change one of his arms into a bazooka that shoots pterodactyls made of fire into the sky where they breathe rainbows and poop clouds. I thought that was weird but totally badass.

This is how I know the kickball thing is about Julie, because with the right genetic mutation, Kevin would use mind control on her friends so they’d always pick her for their team; that way, her face would never get rainy underneath the playground slide. When he asks about my powers, I claim superhuman strength and an unbreakable heart.

Ms. Paley, our kids are at the best age right now—before middle school, which just plain sucks because everyone outgrows you and your corduroys overnight. In high school, they’ll never be appreciated in their own time, learning too young to text their prayers and autocorrect their love. One or the other’s marriage will end in divorce. And it nukes my gut to think I might not be around to tell him not to fight if his wife leaves the light on in empty rooms, skyrocketing the electricity bill. Because it’s worth it—all that light in your life.

For now though, they still scamper to us when we pick them up from school. It’s the tail end of the scampering era. And the way they look at us, as if we became everything we once saw in ourselves: that’s the closest we’ll come to stadium lights.

Now, I know it’s late, Ms. Paley, and Sunday nights are school nights too. But if you and Julie would consider stopping by, we still have a decorate-your-own-cupcake station. We have videogames and pizza bagels and Kevin is saving the good controller for her. And while they play, maybe we can talk about superpowers too: about TiVo’ing real life and living without commercial interruption—about turning any water fountain into a tap with your favorite beer. What if we could save up time like it was money, and blow it all on those rare perfect moments, stretching them out for decades? Like when a spring day gets lost in January and you’re driving with the windows down, your kid and his dog in the backseat with their heads out the window—ice cream on both their noses.


Erik Doughty is an Asian American writer living in Boston, whose work has been published in The Drum, Corium Magazine, and Annalemma, among others. He is almost a lawyer and carries a notebook, air guitar, and inhaler with him wherever he goes. More of his stories can be found at erikdoughty.wordpress.com.

See Erik’s list of 5 Things later this week in our ongoing contributors’ series.

Brief Spaces of Light

by a contributor

Susan L. Lin

The night starts like all others seem to—someone says something about me that I don’t like and I throw it back at them.

Stop making generalizations, I want to say but don’t. I try to laugh instead but come up short. My trachea tightens, makes a sound like someone being strangled. Someone, not me.

Nights like this I feel myself flatten to the floor, like construction paper glued to Bristol board, a bookend being pulled away from either side of me. Am I just everyone else’s collection of body part cutouts, mismatched and held together with brass brads, I’ll move when you want me to?

At Mallory’s place, my mom leaves messages on the machine: Baby, I miss you. I haven’t even spoken to her since I left home after high school graduation to move in with Mallory. “It’s only an hour away. I’ll come visit,” I’d said, knowing what I couldn’t leave behind would fit in a recycled chocolate tin and a pillowcase with a train running across it. On the recording, her voice sounds like an unfinished jigsaw. Her words are incomplete, almost like they’re missing their vowels, almost like I’m standing on one side of the railroad tracks, only able to catch glimpses of the world on the other side as they appear, filtered through those brief spaces of light between moving train cars.

I m—ss y—. C—ll m— b—kkk.

When I see a blue Chevy Impala speeding down the freeway, it turns into a bed rolling down the hospital hall. My father is lying down on it, connected to half a dozen feeding tubes—he’s smaller somehow, younger, thinner than I remember. I can see his bones sticking out in strange places.

I wake up not knowing where I am, lying next to a head, connected to a body, the taste in my mouth like I don’t know what, pretending I don’t remember anything. I roll away, untangle myself from habit just so I can fall into it again some other night.

On my way home, I stumble over the word—H-O-M-E—wondering where it is. Lift my foot to look under my shoe—no, not there—for some reason I think this is hilarious and laugh so hard I start to cry.

Everyone I pass on the street starts looking like a stranger with familiar eyes. I see them all pale blue, something recognizable on their faces: concern maybe, disgust more likely. There’s a bum standing next to an intersection a few blocks away from Mallory’s apartment, wearing a red knit sweater with a huge likeness of Santa’s jolly face emblazoned on the front. It’s the middle of April. The glow from street lamps, blue reflectors on the road, the red-yellow-green pattern of traffic signals, all become oversized strings of Christmas lights decorating the city.

“Please, can you spare change?” the man on the corner says. He’s carrying a cardboard sign with the word HUNGRY scrawled on it in all caps. I shake my head, no, Santa glaring at me through his woven eyes.

I have to swallow as it gets later, earlier—what time is it?—to keep myself from hurling, losing more.


Susan L. Lin hails from southeast Texas and holds an MFA in Writing from California College of the Arts in San Francisco, CA. Her novella Goodbye to the Ocean, which these pieces are excerpted from, was a semifinalist in the 2012 Gold Line Press chapbook competition. Her short prose has recently appeared in Hayden’s Ferry ReviewGhost Town, Hypertext Magazine, Gravel Magazine, Portland Review, and elsewhere.  She blogs intermittently at susanllin.wordpress.com.

The Decree

by a contributor

Eric Howerton

Because we’d lost our sense of value, the day came when the animals voted us out of our cities and towns and homesteads. Their spokesman—a giraffe in a cashmere suit—stood before a horned and winged mob. He made a case we couldn’t contest without looking like undignified jerks. And what, if not for our dignity, separated us from the beasts? From fauna who eviscerated their young and creatures wallowing in filth?

“If you truly embrace the spirit of democracy,” the giraffe said eloquently, hoofs pressed against one another in quiet majesty. “If you truly believe that the vote of every sentient creature is equal in respect to the vote of every other sentient creature, then we ask that you vacate your residences at once.”

“What about our votes?” our president objected, scrambling so that we might remain in the ranch-style houses and luxury condos we delighted in filling with catalogs and circulars and baubles containing trace poisons and food gone sour. “We haven’t even had a chance to run a campaign.”

“Irrelevant!” the giraffe said with unequivocal force. The mob behind him rose and stirred. “We outnumber you by a wide margin. And everyone, with the exception of the badgers, who are old and tiresome and would rather stay rooted in their dens, wants you to leave.”

It was hard not to take the giraffe seriously. With such a neck, his tie was the longest we’d ever seen.

“I see,” our president said, biting his lip. He conferred with his delegation. “Can we at least come back and visit?”

“Do you not understand the meaning of exile?” the giraffe asked in consternation. 

“But we’ve grown accustomed to a certain standard of living,” one of the pillars of business grumbled. 

“Too bad,” the giraffe said. A brigade of pachyderms stepped forward. Vultures and pigeons circled menacingly overhead. “You’ve grown accustomed to television and clean clothes and Snickers bars.” The giraffe licked his lips: “They’re our Snickers bars now.”

*

The following day we packed our bags and left city life behind. From the rolling hills we watched in despair as the animals moved into our former homes, assuming the roles we’d abandoned. We found flat patches of arable land and sowed seed and built lean-tos from thatch and twig. Some expired from eating noxious weeds, which was sad, but no sadder than the many who expired each day from electrical failures and plummeting elevators and the reckless behaviors guiding the wheel.

Thankfully, nobody has tried to construct a new city or resurrect the old ways. Once habituated to the chill of the public bath—a small pool fed by a breathtaking cataract—there isn’t much to be missed. Each day begins with the sun and ends with the stars. I no longer dread the workweek or fantasize of hurling my boss out the window because there is no workweek and there are no bosses. In the wild, everyone is equal. Some days our former leader—who I call Nate now instead of President Rutherford—brings me a handful of berries. Some days I bring Nate a blistered potato hot from the coals. Together we sit on the bluffs and crack jokes about an impatient turtle cursing the creeping drive-thru, a coyote howling at the indifferent customer service rep, a confused bat being asked, “Which is clearer—A? Or B?” We laugh and laugh. We die in different and occasionally gruesome ways out here, but we laugh all the same.


Eric Howerton is a graduate in Fiction from the University of Houston’s PhD in Creative Writing and Literature and from the Pennsylvania State University’s now-defunct MFA program. He lives and teaches in Ogden, UT where he spends his days skiing, hiking, writing, gardening, and seeking out native mushrooms. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in PANK, Revolver, The Masters Review, Driftwood Press, Foliate Oak, and others. 

See Eric’s list of 5 Things tomorrow.